An introduction of a home brewer... Many years ago I asked myself a question that changed how I look at beer forever..... Basically, because my situation at the time dictated I drink gluten-free beer, I was drinking some pretty, well to be entirely honest, shitty beer. So I said to myself, “Self, you're an underachieving overachiever, you could likely make better beer than what you're currently being forced to accept as a beer now, no?” And so it started, I read, read more, tried, failed, experimented lots... and eventually I did make better beer, even more surprising, I could make far better than what was being offered commercially at that point to the gluten-free community, and I did it with methods that very few in the industry were using at the time. I used methodology from centuries ago and combined them with new world techniques, chemistry, and available enzymes to eventually make some pretty fantastic “Gluten Reduced” beer. Although I no longer brew in a gluten-free style, I was pretty decent at this brewing thing, and if I, an underachieving overachiever can make sense of making beer... I can pretty much assure you that anyone can.
For those of you who don't know me, my name is Shane Martin, and this will be my introductory post to a hopefully ongoing Blog I'll be hosting here and at Toronto Brewing. I'll be writing these posts in hopes of creating an interactive learning platform for the homebrewing community that's useful for everyone, newbies and experts alike. I'm currently a stay-at-home dad and artist, with my current artistic focus being sculpting. I worked as a graphic designer for 20+ years primarily in print design, I did design work ranging from promotion in the entertainment industry all the way to design work in the cannabis world. I have approximately 10 years of brewing success and failures under my belt and unlike most, I was probably way more daring than your average newbie when I stepped on the scene. I took risks that made no sense, I often stepped outside of the box and brewed beers that had distinct yet pleasing attributes. From fruity sour ales to dessert meads, from unique homemade candi sugar in Belgian quads to decedent peppermint stouts, and more.
I'm going to use this blog in co-operation with Toronto Brewing to do exbeeriments, teach you techniques in the style of Martin, inclusively involve the home-brewing community with some collaborations and possible brewalongs, and try to get what's inside this crazy brain of mine into black and white for all to benefit from, or laugh at. Either way, I win ;). So let's get started getting to know what makes me tick and why I love brewing so much.
Brewing; The art of combining malted barley(and other grains), hops, water, and yeast to create that glorious elixir we call Beer. Although much has changed in the brewing process over the last few thousand years the fundamentals of making an alcoholic drink have stayed pretty straightforward throughout. You need a sugar source, yeast to eat that sugar, water to dilute the sugary solution, and time to let the yeasties ferment the sugary solution. Fundamentally that's an alcoholic beverage. Brewing beer though involves converting starches in malted grains with heated and chemically balanced water, in conjunction with the malted grains own native enzymes developed during the grain malting process, to convert those starches within the endosperm of the grain into sugar. This process is called the mashing process. There are several different types of mash processes and I can get into that later, but essentially that sugary liquid that was created through the mashing process is then separated from the grain and boiled until the desired volume is achieved. During which time additions of hops, alternative sugar sources, and other adjuncts are added to create wort. The liquid wort is cooled either naturally or with the help of a heat exchange device to temperatures appropriate for adding yeast. The yeast is then added (called a pitch)and the process of fermentation begins.
But what is homebrewing and what does it mean to me from a personal and spiritual standpoint?
To me, the act of making beer is less a systemic system of procedures or a list of ingredients to create that sweet liquid we affectionately call wort, and more an art of combining ingredients, similar in thought to food, to achieve a balance and symmetry that will later be paired with many different complementary goodies. It's about making adjustments within your recipe, process, or fermentation regimen to accomplish the end product you desire. It's about trying new ideas and even new techniques without fear of failure to accomplish set forth goals in a way that's new and innovative. It's about using ingredients that seem out of place but tend to work in the capacity they've been used in. Brewing to me involves many facets, all breaking off into smaller little gems, so let me break those features down into gemmy segments so I can better detail why brewing is so important to me. So let's dive in and get down to what makes Mr. Martin unique and what it is about the brewing process that's somewhat meditative and spiritual to me, and why I enjoy the process of brewing beer more than I do the drinking of the glorious beverage itself.
Let us start with community, why I feel it's such an important aspect of the homebrew scene, and where I'd be as a brewer without it (Hinter, not a very good one). Community, or as I like to call it, the other folks who spend way too much time researching and experimenting with ways to change the chemical and biological attributes of beer all in the name of being unique and innovative. Friends for short. I suffer from a sometimes debilitating social anxiety disorder that for a long time kept me from living a life that was fulfilling and rewarding. I cope with my anxiety in many ways, but in public or with those I'm not overly comfortable with, I tend to cope by talking non-stop to keep those little dastardly demons from coming forth and ruining my good time. I don't keep this aspect of my life a secret, and anyone who knows me personally is privy to that info if they wish to ask me about it. I'm an open book of sorts I guess. Okay enough about my funky brain, so when I started my “beer” brewing hobby I had already made Mead, wine, and cider, so I wasn't a total noob to the nuances of the fermented arts, but I found that brewing allowed me to try and be more involved and become part of a new community, all in the hope of trying to cull some of those demons rather than just subduing them. So I joined GTA Brews Homebrew club and it's now been about 9 years since I first benefited from that fantastic club. Although I'll never be free of my brain, I have certainly benefited from being part of this very welcoming community. To me, the most important part of being a homebrewer is understanding that the community you chose to join is a welcome one, one with very open arms and a whole whack of understanding minds. I've found very little judgment in the hobby and have found that it's a fairly inclusive and equal-opportunity pastime. A community where unity and a willingness to help are never in short order. I believe that the act of brewing is indeed a form of art, living within a community of similar-minded individuals who are always willing to go over and above the call of duty in the name of helping a fellow brewer. I'm no exception and feel I indeed owe it to the community to share what I've learned over the last decade and will continue to learn until the day I die. I'm not attempting to cramp your exploratory spirit, do your own experimenting, I encourage that fully, I'll just offer experiences so others can benefit from my mistakes and not have to make their own if they so choose. In an attempt to get more community involvement, in co-operation with Toronto Brewing, I will be including the homebrewing crowd where I can to assist in any future exbeeriments I do in an attempt to achieve not only an interactive learning platform but as a way to achieve more non-bias data when it comes to final results from the community. What I love the most about brewing is the Science....I'm a fairly scientific-minded individual, I take most things in life in a very analytical and yet oddly experimental type capacity. So it's no wonder I look at brewing similarly. Although I like order, I often find myself challenging the norms of the brewing industry and doing things not generally used in the brewing industry to achieve things I desire in beers. Making augmentations to water chemistry, mash temperatures, types of mashes, variations in process, alternative adjuncts, and several other additional
attributes that all change the chemical and bio-availability of what's provided to the yeast as food. We can alter the environment to change the characteristics of yeast to achieve differing results from the same yeast. We can use hops with terpene profiles that bio-transform during the process of fermentation and yeast that makes those transformations possible, thus, allowing us as the brewer, to cater to a certain flavour profile with the knowledge of what those terpenes chemically transform into after the fermentation process ceases. The science is where I thrive, and where I feel brewing is heading in the future. I'll always be trying to find new ways of brewing more efficiently with more consistent results using science as a foundation for those results. Yes, science rocks!So what about those ingredients? It's not all about the grain, well it is, but not entirely, and I've found interesting ways of introducing things to beer most would never contemplate. I find ingredients for beer in just about any location I go to. I can see a food capable of being converted into a food source for yeast and contemplate how I can best introduce the addition to a beer without it being the forerunner in the flavour profile. It's all about balance and subtleties. I've used everything from simple additions like candied orange and lemon peels to emulsified cocoa (which isn't easy). I've used fruit in many forms, cooked, uncooked, whole, macerated, with and without pectic enzyme, added to active fermentation, and also to a stabilized final product. I've used grains and sugar sources that differ greatly from the “Traditional” sources of sugars. There are ingredients everywhere, and as long as you understand the balance between bitterness, residual sweetness, and alcohol content you can work with just about anything as long as you can fit it into that balance. Ingredients other than grains are a whole new world that creates some interesting and sometimes standout beers.
What about time...? In my opinion, time is one of the most important aspects of the brewing process. Being patient enough to allow a young beer to mellow and do its thang is an area I think we can all improve on. Honestly, this is where most new brewers, as well as some well-seasoned vets, go wrong. Time is a requirement for a brewer to achieve a well-put-together and seamless beer. I often wonder if folks understand the difference a few weeks will make in how a beer presents itself compared to how it would have been perceived in the previous weeks when it was young. Personally I find in a young beer, there's a separation of flavours that require time to combine those flavours. Time then melds together those separations as the beer ages, these flavours don't dissipate, nor are they muted, they just harmoniously live all snuggled up in a blanket of malted love holding each others hands. Time is in essence one of the most important attributes to the development of a stellar beer. Time can take your beer from being good to being great, and all it took was patience.There are many ways to create great beer, many techniques that improve, change or make a beer unique so that it stands out in a crowd. I'd like to take a journey with you all, experiment, and step out of the box, test new techniques, ingredients and get uncomfortable while doing so. Because you don't learn much if you never step outside of your comfort zone.So now that you have an understanding of the way I think, who I am, and what makes me love brewing, let's start a journey together. Since I adore brewing beer, it won't come as a surprise when I say I'm going to love continuing this blog with content that's informative, educational, hopefully innovative, and full of fun in a mash tun!See ya on the next one.